Part One: A Night at the Opera

'In These Stones Horizons Sing' .  Interior view of calligraphy.
It’s a couple of hours’ drive, at best, from here to the Millennium Centre in Cardiff, but since that pretty much takes us from door to door, it’s worth the occasional marathon for a good night’s entertainment. Tonight, however, in addition to the journey, we have a marathon opera; five and a half hours of Tristan und Isolde… although that does, thank goodness, include two intervals!

I fear, as we take our seats, that it’s also five and half hours of adjusting to the ablutionary habits of the man to my left, suggestive of a rather ‘stuff and nonsense’ approach to fancy shampoo. However, as the show begins and the exchange between Isolde and her maid, Brangaene, goes on at length, I get rather comfortable and enjoy a little power napette which refreshes me nicely for the rest of the performance.

The wooden curves of the concourse galleries.

I’ve come in the hope of being converted to Wagner, but by the end of Act One there’s some way to go. My younger daughter, Rose, played the French horn at school and when we heard that her teacher was performing in the orchestra accompanying an am dram production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Ruddigore, we felt we ought to show solidarity and buy tickets. ‘Buy an interesting ice cream too,’ was his prophetic advice then, and indeed, I’m finding my first interval ice cream particularly interesting this evening.

Act Two hits the spot for me with beautiful music and a truly towering performance from Ann Petersen as Isolde. Whilst others make a second interval dash for theatre meals, Tom and I eat our smoked salmon bagels in the car watching the rain. It’s quite cosy and romantic actually.

And the band played on.  And on.
There’s an inordinate amount of shepherd-playing-sad-tunes in Act Three which has me wishing Wagner had killed a few of his darlings. He does, however, kill off quite a few of the cast; the man to my left gets the giggles as another large body hits the deck, whilst Tom to my right, is having trouble with Tristan’s professed desire to take his beloved to ‘a place where the sun doesn’t shine’. Still, all comes good eventually, winding up with a belter of a finale. ‘The ending was good,’ Tom observes. ‘That,’ I reply, ‘after five and a half hours, is the least we deserved.’

So, no, I’m still no closer to liking Wagner, but the extraordinary performance from cast and orchestra demonstrates once again that a night at the Welsh National Opera is well worth the drive.

Tomorrow I’ll be talking about my day at the Hay Festival.


Flowerpot said…
Sounds quite an experience, Chris, even if you didn't fall i love! Looking forward to hearing about Hay....
Chris Stovell said…
It was a very enjoyable evening, Sue - I just like doing something different for a change!
Shirley Wells said…
Thanks for the laugh. So glad the ending was good. :)

Can't wait to hear about your day at the Hay Festival. So wish I could have been there!
Chris Stovell said…
Thanks Shirley!
Cara Cooper said…
Sounds like a real epic, well done for staying the course and the building looks beautiful. I absolutely agree about doing something different. Next week I'm seeing Hamlet at The Globe and I do so hope it's warmer by then!
Fennie said…
I have done that - but many years ago when the WNO had to perform in the New Theatre and we, poor mice, had to suffer in the gods.

The problem with Wagner is that he is wonderful in small doses but five and a half hours is silly and counterproductive. Why? is the question. You could leave whole chunks of Tristan out and improve the opera's enjoyment no end. The same thing is true with Hamlet which at four hours is chasing Tristan.

Still, I am sure you can call it research.
Chris Stovell said…
I agree, Fennie! There's a heck of a lot of padding! I thought the WNO showed great stamina to last the course and to work such wonders with the material.
Chris Stovell said…
Hi Cara, it ought to be warmer, but who knows? I like Hamlet, but I've never been to the Globe so will be interested to read about your experience of it.

The Millennium Centre is well worth a visit if you're ever in the area. Here's to doing something different!
Frances said…
Chris, you know how near I live to the Metropolitan Opera House at NYC's Lincoln Center, and how long I have lived this close to the Met.

Why is it, I ask and maybe berate myself, that I have never seen an opera from inside the Met? Yes, I have seen glorious ballet in the Met, but never opera.

Reading this post of yours has encourages me to try again. If your were to chose a composer whose work you'd recommend for a beginner, which would he be?

Should I just go for it, get a ticket and see what happens?

It's just because you are a friend that I feel remotely comfortable sending this comment. xo
Chris Stovell said…
Hello Frances, I'm a fan rather than an expert so I can only urge you not to miss out on the wonderful experience of opera at the Met! As you know, we saw Carmen there and, again, although it's not my favourite, the production was just extraordinary and I loved just being there, soaking up the atmosphere. I like a bit of Puccini myself,(Tom doesn't agree!) Tosca especially - I really enjoyed WNO's production of Turandot, (and I see you've got what looks like a really interesting production coming your way) although it is very bloodthirsty so perhaps not the most comfortable of introductions to opera! I'd say just pick one that appeals to you and see if it suits you! Cx

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